Friday, 29 August 2008

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Years ago, I watched what I thought was most of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Then, a month ago, I bought the DVD as part of a birthday care package from Amazon, and last night watched it in its entirety. I thoroughly enjoyed it, both on a superficial level, where it works as a western, and in a subconscious perhaps-imagined sense in which it stands for the evolution of America and particularly the westward expansion.

WARNING: Artsy interpretation includes spoilers.

Jimmy Stewart plays Law'n'Order, who arrives in town and is assaulted by Lawlessness. He is brought out of the wilderness by Toughness (John Wayne), and taken in by New America (Vera Miles). New America and Toughness are an item, but the arrival of Law'n'Order makes her wonder if that's what she really wants. As the film progresses, New America realises that Law'n'Order can take her places and teach/show her things that Toughness never will, and she throws her lot in with the bookish guy, leaving Toughness all broken up. In a showdown between Law'n'Order and Lawlessness, Toughness steps in at the last minute and saves Law'n'Order's bacon, but as a result, New America casts Toughness aside in favour of Law'n'Order. Years later, America and a greying Law'n'Order return to town, and it is revealed that America regrets her decision, and although her head said Law'n'Order, it was Toughness that she really loved.

End artsy interpretation/spoilers.

Ed: I'd also add that discovering the Western genre has almost certainly been the most pleasant aspect of my IMDB Top 250 quest. I've watched the following films as a direct result of the quest: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly; A Few Dollars More; Once Upon A Time In America; Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid; The Searchers; Rio Bravo; High Noon; The Magnificent Seven; The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre; The Ox-Bow Incident; The Wild Bunch, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. About 8 of the dozen I've really enjoyed, which is a pretty good strike rate.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Beijing medal count (sports conducted sitting down):
  • Britain: 14 gold, 8 silver, 7 bronze
  • Australia: 5 gold, 5 silver, 3 bronze
Beijing medal count (other sports):
  • Britain: 5 gold, 5 silver, 8 bronze
  • Australia: 9 gold, 10 silver, 14 bronze
Just saying.

This counts cycling, canoeing (excluding the kneeling canoe events), equestrian, rowing, and sailing (excluding sailboards). Interestingly, only dressage made my hate-list the other day.

On a less flippant note, the discrepancy in medals between the two countries, GB 19-13-15 vs AUS 14-15-17, can be attributed almost entirely to cycling, where Britain dominated (8-4-2), and Australia had one of our worst Olympics ever (0-1-0).

Monday, 25 August 2008

bushwhackin' Bulimba

Amusing weekend. On Friday night Mick & I watched Tropic Thunder, which was a bit underwhelming. On Saturday night, the Lions choked on their knees against the Blues, which was quite depressing.

On Sunday morning, a bunch of us went for breakfast at Bulimba before a game of golf. We settled on a new Olympic sport, tentatively named the Randomathlon, where individuals or teams compete in a selection of events randomly selected on the day of competition from all of the Olympic sports. So in the individual you can might have a day of table tennis, diving, swimming, equestrian, rhythmic gymnastics, and shotput, and in the teams it might be synchronised swimming, tennis doubles, hockey, and volleyball.

The golf was fun. I shot 36 for the 9 holes, including a really great section on the 6th and 7th. I put my tee shot on the 6th over the back of the green, on the steep side of the 7th tee mound, and with 10m to the pin including a 4m high fence. With an unlikely stance, I threw up a flop shot that landed pin high and rolled about 4m past the pin. I 2-putted for 4. On the 7th I hit a high half-wedge to the back of the green and hit a super-fast, curling downhill putt for birdie. The greens were very fast all day, and since they are all inverted saucers, holding greens was challenging and putting was intimidating.

In the evening, Mick had people round to his for his birthday. He set up a projector in garden and showed film clips and a horror comedy film. It was a bring-a-plate dinner (I made a couple of quiches), which went really well. Julz, Paul, Andy and I also presented Mick with Project X, his birthday piñata coated in 12 years' worth of movie stubs, and it seemed to go down well.

Friday, 22 August 2008

reiterating - sport should be objectively measurable

Something tells me that I made this point back when the Athens Olympics were on, but here we go again - it deserves reiteration.

Judges/referees/umpires in sport should judge fact, not merit. "Sports" which are decided by judges' scores should not be in the Olympics. This includes:
  • Gymnastics, including both rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, and trampoline (which make up 18 gold medal events)
  • Diving, synchronized or otherwise (8 gold medals)
  • Synchronized swimming (2 gold medals) (Frankly, this one isn't a sport by any reasonable criteria).
  • Equestrian dressage (2 gold medals, plus the dressage component in the 2 eventing medals)
  • The winter olympics has a whole swag of events, including figure skating, ski jumping and probably things like the freestyle skiing - jumps and moguls and stuff.

30 less opportunities for people to quite reasonably complain about judges' subjective decisions costing them medals. In particular, anyone who argues that rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or figure skating are legitimate sports is flat out kidding themselves.

There is also a group of sports for which the judging of points or facts can be very arbitrary. The following are on shaky ground, and should be either dropped or told to make themselves more objective:
  • Fencing, in which something like 75% of touches are simultaneous, and scores thus effectively become subjective. Get a machine to do it, for crying out loud - if it works for Operation and Sale Of The Century, then it can work for Olympic fencing.(Ed: My reading suggests they have moved to electric judging, although I still question the real significance of striking someone 41ms before being struck oneself.) 10 gold medals
  • Walking, in which a judge's call about breaking contact with the ground or bending knees frequently decides the outcome. 3 gold medals.
  • A lot of the combat sports, i.e. taekwondo (8 gold medals), judo (14 gold medals), wrestling (18 gold medals) and even boxing (11 gold medals) at times, are very prone to "judgement calls" by judges.

Incidentally, I also have a nice little pile of other sports that I would like to see banished, headed by water polo and modern pentathlon, but I'll have to leave them for a day when I have a more cogent argument than "I think they're rubbish".

From 3 years to 5 days

The previous book I read took 3 years, the next one took 5 days. I started Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, on Saturday or Sunday, and finished it late last night. It was significantly shorter, at a sparse 179 pages, but of equal significance was that I actually devoted some time to reading it, taking buses rather than riding a couple of days, and taking it to lunch with me a few days.

As for the book itself, I don't have an awful lot to say on it. Its a science fiction story with some commentary on religion/science/politics, but nothing as insightful as, say, Foundation. There seems to be an attempt to neologise (add new words into the vernacular, a la "grok" from Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land) but they didn't stick for me. (Ed: I draw these comparisons only to highlight the story elements, not to belittle Vonnegut's book by comparison to what are, after all, probably two of the greatest SF novels ever written).

Apparently Vonnegut was awarded his PhD based on this novel as his thesis, after his original thesis was rejected. I probably wouldn't have given it to him for this book, although his later efforts (what I've read of it, and what I've heard about that which I haven't read, e.g. Slaughterhouse 5) probably merit it, and his overall body of work certainly does.

Next up was going to be Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Nietzsche, but the copy I have is a little delicate in its cover, so I baulked at bringing it on the bus today, instead grabbing Joyce's Dubliners. Its a compilation of short stories, the first of which I read this morning, which he wrote before Portrait of the The Artist As A Young Man (which I liked), and Ulysses (which I have struggled, and thus far failed, to finish). Hopefully its episodic nature will lend itself to easier reading than Ulysses, and also to my current episodic pattern of reading.

Apologies to Ali if this post seems pretentious :)

Monday, 18 August 2008

3-year books make bad 100-minute films

On Saturday I finally allocated some time to finishing off the novel I've been reading, Possession: A Romance, by A.S. Byatt. Lee gave me the book about 3 years ago, and I essentially read it over two periods: the first two thirds of it then, and the last third over recent months.

The time it took me to finish the book shouldn't be interpreted as a slight on its quality. It is well-written, and although the poetry sections can be slow-going at times, I came to appreciate their contribution to the story. I thought most of the characters were well-drawn, showing a range of personalities and motivations in the sphere of literary academia in which the novel is set. The exceptions are perhaps La Motte, who feels too imbued with the stereotypical passivity and victim syndrome of 19th century literature, and perhaps Maud, who can be a bit blank at times. The plot moves nicely, bouncing between the 19th century fling between the poets and the modern mirror between the critics. The Brittany phase, while evocative in some of the ambience it painted of the area, felt weak in terms of the story, perhaps partly because it dwelt upon, or even wallowed in, the less edifying aspects of Christabel's character. Nonetheless, that was followed by a nice little section of pomo self-reflection, a nice albeit not quite credible ending, and a very elegant epilogue.

While reading the book, I was conscious that there was a film adaptation, directed by Neil LaBute and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, who seemed to me a good casting option for Maud. I tracked down a copy of the film last night and watched it, with the book fresh in my mind.

This is only the second time that I've watched a film adaptation soon after reading the source novel, the first being Le Carré's The Constant Gardener. That film was a much better film on its own merits, and the experience of comparing the two renditions of the story was an amusing exercise in understanding the filmmakers' reasons for trimming the elements they did.

This time, though, felt more like counting the casualties of the adaptation, and wondering if the greater damage was done in adaptation or in editing. The film is far, far too short at 100 minutes long. Neither the 19th-century couple nor their modern counterparts are given a chance to develop any credible chemistry. Ash and LaMotte's tryst, in particular, lacks all the intellectual motivation of the book, which was entirely the point. The casting is quite poor. The character of Roland is so very English, but is inexplicably recast as an American. Blackadder is, seemingly for no reason, cast as an Irishman rather than a Scot.

The casualties of the adaptation range from the minor, like the disappearance of Dog Tray, who I quite liked, to major, as in the absence of Beatrice Nest and particularly of Leonora Stern, who offered an interesting alternative view of the academic, and Val, whose relationship with Roland was so important to his character and his subsequent relationship with Maud. More concerning is the absence of any real character development, so often the case in a book-to-film adaptation. Aside from the relationships between the 4 main characters, parts like Cropper and Fergus are given no chance to develop credibly, and Roland's arc is lacking in its beginning, in his relationship with Val, and its end, in his finding professional and creative escape at the story's resolution. The other absence, I suppose, is poetry. I concede that poetry is almost impossible to adapt for the screen, but without that underpinning, the film seems to lack fundament.

I will confess that watching the film and thinking about its shortcomings did make me appreciate many of the aspects of the book, in particular the way it had developed characters and relationships, and the different ways the characters related to the literature that was their work. Obviously, though, this is damnation by faint praise. The book was a poor choice for adaptation - the story's poetic base is unfilmable, and there are too many characters (that there are 4 distinct leads cannot be avoided) - and a 102 min running length made the task all but impossible.